Calls for ‘she sheds’ to get same funding as men’s sheds

Men’s sheds in Australia have become important community hubs and, while some welcome female involvement, many women who want to learn practical skills do not feel comfortable in what is a traditionally male space.

Mon Lulan, who lives in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart, has spent the past three years working to establish a women’s shed, to give women a place to connect, learn basic home maintenance skills and talk about their issues.

Almost 700 women have expressed interest in a Huon She Shed, and the group now has a shed space but face a fight to secure enough funding to fit it out.

It is hoped the shed, welcoming women of all ages and walks of life, will offer workshops, classroom-style teaching and a place to socialise.

“I’m just so excited. I really, really want this to go well, not for me so much, but for everyone out there,” Ms Lulan said.

“Mental health is a big one down here, and breast cancer, even menopause.”

There are more than 1200 men’s sheds around the country, including several in the Huon.

In comparison, there are about 50 women’s sheds in Australia.

Government asks women to ‘work with the men’s shed’

When Tricia Reardon decided she wanted to become more self-sufficient on her own property, she did not know where to start.

She found out about the Huon She Shed online and “got caught up in [Ms Lulan’s] enthusiasm”.

Now, Ms Reardon is the Huon She Shed vice-president and is in charge of applying for grants and organising sponsorship.

Two women smile at the camera.
Tricia Reardon and Mon Lulan say the shed will take about $60,000 to fit out. (ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

In the past four years, the Tasmanian government has given almost $600,000 to 117 men’s shed initiatives through a grants program specifically for men’s sheds.

Women’s sheds can apply for general community grants but have no funding programs specifically for them.

The Huon She Shed board would like to see women’s sheds supported in the same way men’s sheds.

Government minister Nic Street, who met with Huon She Shed representatives when he was community services minister, said he would “encourage them to continue to work with the men’s shed and community shed movement who are looking to facilitate them as best that they can”.

However, he said the government had discussed “how we make sure that there is equitable access to those grant programs for anybody who wants to access them”.

Shed to tackle ‘lack of confidence’

While the local men’s shed welcomes women, Ms Reardon said there were many women who wanted their own space.

“People like me that would feel intimidated going into what would traditionally be a man’s space … want to learn with other women,” she said.

Tricia Reardon smiles at the camera.
Tricia Reardon says the shed would teach basic skills like changing a tap washer or a car tyre. (ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

“There are a lot of women down here who live alone, they have experienced domestic violence, [there’s] a lot of marginalisation and there’s just this lack of confidence and I think that’s what’s really important.

“I think women around other women gain that confidence.”

The skills many of the women want to learn are often already familiar to the men who belong to the men’s shed. 

Four people stand in front of a large shed.
Toby Thorpe, Tricia Reardon, Mon Lulan and Wayne Simmons inspect the shed site at Ranelagh. (ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

“We’re talking really basic home maintenance skills,” Ms Reardon said.

“How to change a tap washer, or change a tyre on a car, or how to use a certain tool to just put a picture up on a wall, or hang a door, or paint a room properly.”

Shed secured, but funds needed for fit-out

The Huon She Shed has support from the Huon Valley Council, which provided the shed at the Ranelagh Showgrounds for the group to use.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to have an idea of the real value of a she shed until they’re … up and running for a while,” Mayor Sally Doyle said.

A woman with blonde hair, glasses and a black and white shirt smiles at the camera.
Sally Doyle says the real value of the ‘she shed’ will become apparent when it’s up and running. (ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

“There’ll be young ladies, there’ll be older generation — it’ll be for all, and I think we’ll be surprised at what skills come out as well of people that already know how to do things that want to come in and help.”

But before the Huon She Shed can open, it needs a lot of work. 

The shed needs to be lined, it needs plumbing and electrical upgrades, and work to ensure it complies with safety regulations.

Four people walk down a country dirt road.
Women’s shed proposals don’t have access to the same grants as men’s sheds and proponents say that needs to change. (ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

It also needs to be fitted out as a workshop with a tool room and kitchenette.

“This shed is really a shell. We need about $60,000 to $65,000,” Ms Reardon said.

“The men’s sheds get some pretty good funding and fair enough, give them more, but don’t forget us — we’re just as important,” Ms Lulan said.

Wayne Simmons smiles at the camera.
Huon Valley Rotary Club president Wayne Simmons says he supports the project. (ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Huon Valley Rotary Club president Wayne Simmons said he was a big supporter of men’s sheds but also saw a place for a women’s version.

“There’s never been anything that’s really been designed and aimed towards women to give those the skills, particularly women who are on their own, single parents,” Mr Simmons said.

Ms Lulan wants the Huon She Shed open by the end of February.

“She shedders, we want you. Come and join us, we’re going to be opening early next year — hopefully,” she said. 

Would you like a she shed in your area? Or do you have something similar? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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